The proposed National-offshoot Christian Party will undoubtedly fail, but not before helping Jacinda Ardern win a second term.
Of potential new coalition partners for National, a Christian Party has always been most plausible. There is clearly a gap in the market, with both Labour and National committed to secularism and a majority of their MPs usually on the more liberal side of so-called moral issues.
Previous new entrants aiming to fill the gap have given it a good shot, falling just short of the 5 per cent threshold in 1996 and 2014.
In 2002, when Peter Dunne metaphorically donned a mitre, God delivered, in the form of a worm, an electronic measure of the immediate responses of 100 undecided voters watching the leaders' debate.
Declared that night's winner, his United Future Party reached nearly 7 per cent, bringing in a bunch of staunch conservative MPs. They were not successful parliamentarians.
Since the Ardern Government was formed, it has been obvious moral issues would be especially prominent this term. Labour wants abortion out of the Crimes Act, the Greens secured the cannabis referendum and Act's David Seymour is leading euthanasia reform.
These developments follow same-sex marriage in 2013, and John Key, Helen Clark and Sue Bradford's historic deal on child discipline in 2007.
For social conservatives, it's been one defeat after another.
Despite spectrums of opinion within National and Labour, the general trend towards liberalisation will continue unless the religious right secures some type of NZ First-style veto over the issues that concern it.
Conventional wisdom is that a Christian Party would benefit National, prompting nattering over the last 18 months about how to set one up.
Until now, it has been overshadowed by talk of an even more challenging scheme, a new blue-green coalition partner.
In fact, both projects are preposterous, with the Christian idea only slightly less fanciful.
Coalition partners just aren't the sort of thing that can be whipped up by party strategists and donors, no matter how brilliant or well-endowed.
National tried after the 1993 MMP referendum, with Rob Fenwick's Progressive Greens and Graeme Lee's Christian Democrats. The former won a pathetic 0.26 per cent of the vote and the latter didn't even make it to the election, instead hooking up with Graham Capill's much more established Christian Heritage to form the Christian Coalition.
It is not idealistic but mere observation to argue that succeeding in New Zealand politics requires parties to have at least a minimum degree of authenticity, genuinely evolving from the community or important social institutions.
Love them or hate them, New Zealand's most successful parties — Labour, National, NZ First and the Greens — are all authentic entities, emerging from the unions, farmers and business, Grey Power and agrarian socialism respectively.
Other parties that achieved temporary success also had authentic kaupapa, from Social Credit's economic theories, to Bob Jones' New Zealand Party as a reaction against Robert Muldoon's authoritarianism, to Jim Anderton's split from Labour over its free-market reforms, to Tariana Turia's departure from Labour over Clark's attempted foreshore and seabed confiscation.
Jones, Anderton and Turia were also respected household names, at least within their targeted voting groups.
In contrast, no new party has got anywhere as a conscious play on MMP's rules. Those that develop into playthings of a larger entity, like Act and United Future, end up as one-man bands. Voters may be weak on macroeconomics but are infallible at recognising inauthenticity.
More practically, small parties can only be useful to bigger parties if they can draw voters across the centre line, the way Winston Peters delivered a hunk of left-wing support to Jim Bolger in 1996 and a hunk of right-wing support to Ardern in 2017.
Right now, National has its most socially conservative leader since Sid Holland in the 1950s. Even Bill English's Roman Catholicism is ultimately more liberal than Simon Bridges' more evangelical Christianity.
On none of the major issues that concern social conservatives is there any recognisable daylight between Bridges and the Christian Party's putative leader, National List MP Alfred Ngaro.
There is no more ideological rationale for Ngaro to leave Bridges' National than there would be for some nameless Labour backbencher to leave Ardern's Labour to set up a Kindness Party.
The inauthenticity of the exercise was immediately evident when Ngaro's open speculation about the new party did not prompt moves to revoke his National Party membership. His then making provocative comments about abortion with Bridges' right-hand men Todd McClay and Mark Mitchell standing behind in support can only be lethal to both causes.
Labour strategists already have more than enough to lampoon the new party as fake and smear National as complicit. The most likely outcome is Ngaro failing to bring any Labour voters across the centre line, but securing enough right-wing votes to hurt National without winning a single seat.
If Bridges and his strategists believe a Christian Party is in National's interests then it will have to genuinely emerge from a network of evangelical and other churches, with a leader with existing name recognition and perhaps a few points in the preferred prime minister polls.
In which case, why shouldn't Bridges be the one to break away from National to lead it? At least it would then be authentic, and solve two of National's problems in one bold move.
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